Sunday, October 31, 2010

NYC Subway Survival Guide (Part 4)

One of the oldest and most extensive underground mass rapid transportation systems in the world, the New York City subway can be a daunting task to navigate even for the most seasoned of straphangers. This is where I come in. I'm a New Yorker born and bred, having lived here for all 34 years of my life. Mine has been a continuous love/hate relationship with the labyrinthine rail system ever since I started riding it at the age of 9, and I'm here to present my tips and observations to you.

The Subway Survival Guide is meant to keep you alive and well to live another day in New York City. Ignore its warnings at your own peril.

But before we get started on the next installment of this ongoing series, please check out these previous entries at your own leisure:

Part 1: Trust No One!
Part 2: Make Yourself Less of a Target.
Part 3: Getting Around.


And now, let us continue:

Part 4 - Racial Profiling.
---------------------------


The New York City subway is a crowded mess, let's not pretend it's not. And the quest for the rare, ever-elusive empty seat during rush hour can seem like an impossible task. But if you take note of who's already sitting down around you, it's possible that a seat can be yours in just under 15 mins, tops. Now normally racial profiling is a bad, bad thing. As someone who's been on the receiving end of it, trust me: it's so not cool. And yet, I'm about to get downright un-PC with what I'm going to suggest next. See, when it comes down to survival in the urban jungle, sometimes you need to be a little un-PC. It's the law of the land.


The German tourist family is the obvious first choice when you're standing in a crowded express commute car heading home after work. They're not hard to spot: just search for a group of, like, 9 extended family members, blond and blue-eyed and all sitting in a neat row staring intently up at the subway line map. Their pale moon faces and flush red cheeks (a complexion, I imagine, you can only get from milking cows in the crisp Bavarian countryside) are a dead giveaway. If you're on a train traveling uptown, this large group WITHOUT FAIL will be getting off at Times Square. You can bet money on this.

The next sure bet is . . . Asian people. If you know your train is traveling anywhere that has a stop named "Canal Street" in Manhattan -- and believe me, your train will be -- then this is where they'll be getting off. It doesn't matter if they're Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese . . . Chinatown is where they'll be going! Especially if the Asian man or woman is elderly and/or carrying pink plastic bags filled with fresh garden vegetables or fish. Stand close to these folks and wait for the Canal Street station to slide into view. If you time it just right, you can slip into the seat abandoned by the old Asian man before anyone else standing is even aware of what just happened. If you're traveling uptown, however, and you have already passed Canal St., then look for the Asian straphanger to get off at Times Square, so as to catch the 7 line out to Flushing. With. Out. Fail.

White people are the next popular group to give up seats with predictable timing. If you're on the Lexington Avenue line traveling uptown, for instance -- find the Caucasian executive dressed in a suit and/or dress shirt with tie. If they have a briefcase, SCORE! I don't know why, but these folks ALWAYS get off at 42nd Street Grand Central. My guess is to catch the Metro North lines out to the suburbs. Any remaining white people on your train will either get off at the next stop, or the one after that. So stick by them if no businessmen are available in your immediate vicinity.

Relax, nobody of the Caucasian persuasion travels above 86th street on the Lex. Express. This is because the next stop after 86th is *gasp* HARLEM! Oh god, NO!!! All the "darkies" live there, and heaven forbid you should ever end up here if you're white. Why, you might get mugged. Or raped! Or mugged, then raped! So if you stood by whitey and still don't have a seat after 86th street, tap him or her on the shoulder and warn them. It's the civic thing to do.

Now, have you exhausted all these options and still don't have a seat? Sorry dude, you're S-O-L. If all you can see around you is a sea of minorities, then tough it up and resign yourself to a very long standing ride uptown. Blacks and Latinos never get off at the next stop. EVAR! It's like they all live at the very last stop. Or so it always seems to me.

Above all else, avoid standing near the morbidly obese black female (MOBF) who may also be in the same boat as you, hunting for a seat. Even if a seat becomes available nearest you and is only wide enough to fit a normal-sized human being, you'll not be the one getting it. The MOBF is a fierce seat predator. Whether she can fit into it or not, she will claw and bite her way through you for that perch -- as her sense of entitlement is STRONG. Any poor fool sitting in proximity as the MOBF defiantly squeezes her titanically round rear into the square peg of a seat must forfeit the use of his or her arm and/or kneecap for the remainder of the ride. It belongs to her now, and her ass is always HUNGRY!



Now, to be sure, there ARE exceptions to these rules, Nothing is absolute in the real world. But 9 times out of 10, if you follow the advice above, you WILL get a seat. The best is when you find a long stretch of bench with a mixture of all three types -- tourists, Asians, and white people. In such a scenario, and if you stick very close to your target so that no one else can cut in front of you when they eventually get up, you will have a seat within two stops. Guaranteed!

Be aware, however: you're not the only one who knows these rules. The MOBF in particular is just as aware of subway herd tendencies as you are now. In fact, she's better equipped to act on these observations, as her large bulk and overwhelming SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT powers are more than a match for the mild-mannered, average and tired nine-to-fiver just trying make it home after a long day. So be wary and stick to your guns. You have to be absolutely fierce! If you must give ground to the HUNGRY raging MOBF, have no fear. Simply reuse the rules stated above to hunt down another target who will give up their seat soon. In midtown Manhattan, there's usually more than one prospect on any given subway car.

Just remember: relax. You can do it!

New Horror TV Show Begins Tonight!

One word: ZOMBIES!!!!



Okay, I'll say a few more words. I've been waiting for "The Walking Dead" to finally air when I first saw the official trailer that came out of Comic-Con over the summer. The television production -- based on an Image comics property written by Robert Kirkman, and drawn by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard -- was developed by Frank Darabont, one of my favorite writer-directors. It's also being produced by Gale Anne Hurd (of Terminator and Aliens fame), and the music provided by none other than Bear McCreary, a composer I just admire so much after his work on the Battlestar Galactica series.

So, in other words, full of WIN all around!

But enough words, how about some trailer footage to whet your appetites? Yeah, I thought you might like that. So click on the clip below, and then join me in checking out the 90-minute premiere tonight on AMC.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Music To Set The Mood


Well, it's getting closer to the start date of my novel. You know, the novel based on the 3rd NES game in the Castlevania series?

To get myself properly ready for this humongous undertaking, I went and found copies of the soundtracks for the first 4 games in the series -- Castlevania I, II, III, and IV -- and transferred them all over to my iTunes library. I plan to listen to the Dracula's Curse soundtrack on heavy rotation as I write seeing as, you know, my novel will be based on this particular title. But, honestly, all 4 soundtracks serve the same purpose: to get my head back into what it felt like to play these wonderfully atmospheric games when I was a kid.

If you would like to get your hands on the same tracks, just head on over to the Castlevania Crypt where you'll find all the info you ever wanted on all the games. For soundtracks, click on the "GAMES" menu and select which game you want. Then, once on that game's page, select "Soundtrack" from the sub-menu on the right.

As for my novel, writing begins tomorrow on Halloween. Oh, how fitting!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Crazy And The City

See, I told you all in part 2 of the New York City Survival Guide the steps to take to make yourself less of a target for assholes. And I mentioned, too, that you really don't want to attract any of the crazies. Well, what I forgot to say is . . . sometimes the crazies still get you, even when you obey all the rules I outlined in that blog entry.

Case in point, the video I'm embedding below. This was taken on the F train by someone else, but it's what I see myself from time to time -- crazy people let loose on unsuspecting citizens. Watch in the video how this young lady is minding her own business and doing her best to not look at, provoke, or otherwise attract the attention of this bat-shit bonkers old woman standing next to her. And yet . . . AND YET . . . she still gets slapped upside the head for no reason. Arrrgh! This kind of thing pisses me off!

But anyway, see for yourself. If you want visual proof of just how dangerously unpredictable riding the subway can be here, look no further:





Sickening, isn't it? These kinds of people need to be locked up. I realize they have mental problems, but they shouldn't be allowed to just roam the streets and subways like this. Not only are they a harm to other people, but to themselves as well.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Lovefest With Technology Continues . . .


I swear, is there really anything my iPhone can't do? I've been a Netflix member now for 3 years, and only recently have I started watching titles through the company's instant streaming interface, which allows one to rent their movies and watch them all online. And now in addition to my PC and HDTV, I can watch stuff that's on my Netflix "queue" over my iPhone as well, from anywhere that has 3G or WiFi coverage.

At first, streaming was a bit laggy when this technology first debuted. But now, thanks to added infrastructure, I have to say I've become highly addicted to this facet of the overall Netflix membership. It's quite smooth and serviceable, to the point that I now get impatient whenever a movie or show is NOT available for instant streaming and I have to wait for snail mail to get my titles. Yuck!




What being able to access my account and watch content on my iPhone does now is allow me to catch up on old episodes of Stargate: SG1 from work. Or any other great tv show I somehow missed during its first run for various reasons.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: oh, bad employee! Watching tv on the company's dime instead of doing his work. But, you see, it's not what you think. We're allowed to listen to music via headphones all day long and until the cows come home here. What I do with the iPhone is similar. I perch the phone up at eye level off to the side. Then I set Netflix to play and go about doing my work at my desk like normal. My eyes are on my work, with only occasional sight breaks to see the important stuff on the small screen before quickly returning. I'm not using company resources, and the screen is not interfering with my PC monitor. In fact, I find I'm able to pay full attention to what's going on in the show I'm watching while barely looking at the phone. In this way, it's really no different than how I sometimes watch tv at home: which is to say, playing in the background while I get other things done.




But it's amazing how much I can get done this way. I guess having my mind occupied on more than one level while I work is a good thing. Not to mention how fast the time seems to fly. And, as an added bonus I get to fly through seasons of tv shows I really don't have much time to watch at home (what with writing and working out and all the other things that demand of my time).

I've said it before here, and I'll say it again: I *heart* technology!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NYC Subway Survival Guide (Part 3)

One of the oldest and most extensive underground mass rapid transportation systems in the world, the New York City subway can be a daunting task to navigate even for the most seasoned of straphangers. This is where I come in. I'm a New Yorker born and bred, having lived here for all 34 years of my life. Mine has been a continuous love/hate relationship with the labyrinthine rail system ever since I started riding it at the age of 9, and  I'm here to present my tips and observations to you, visitor and citizen alike of this great American metropolis.

The Subway Survival Guide is meant to keep you alive and well to live another day in New York City. Ignore its warnings at your own peril.

But before we get started on the next installment of this ongoing series, please check out these previous entries at your own leisure:

Part 1: Trust No One!
Part 2: Make Yourself Less of a Target.

And now, let us continue:


Part 3 - Getting Around.
---------------------------

New York is an amazing city, made even more evident by the fact that, unlike the Paris Metro or London Underground, our subways operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's really quite phenomenal when you think about it, and rather apropos for the town that bills itself as being the "city that never sleeps." In fact, we New Yorkers take it for granted. I remember Lisa and I feeling quite put out when, while in Paris and after having a leisurely late dinner in the Les Halles neighborhood, we came to discover that the metro had shut down for the evening. What the hell? We were so not prepared for this, coming from New York and all. We ended up hailing a cab back to the hotel, so it was no big deal, but it really made us sit back and appreciate what we had back home.

This is not to imply that our subway system is perfect. Far from it. And in fact, its very large size and antiquated infrastructure can really make it a chore to navigate for non-natives. Hell, who am I kidding? Even an old hand like me can find himself turned around by sudden service disruptions that come with no warning or explanation whatsoever. It's happened a handful of times in my experience. Now imagine how chaotic our system must seem to tourists, then? Yikes!

But fear not. This is called the NYC Subway Survival Guide for a reason. Below you'll find helpful hints on how the make the best of navigating our convoluted, but invaluable, underground transportation network.

First off: find yourself a reliable and genuine NYC subway map. These can be found all over the city, not the least of which is inside most major subway stations -- they're usually provided for free outside the few remaining manned booth stations still in operation throughout the network. And if you're a tourist, chances are you either already have your own map, or have been provided one by your hotel's concierge or front desk. Now a warning: our subway map can be a bit intimidating to first-time visitors, to say the least. Just click on the thumbnail to the left to see a larger image and discover for yourself. Wow, right? It's simply CRAZY! But I'll show you a few cool interactive map options later for those of you who own smart phones. It can make the experience a lot less cardiac intensive.

Next, get yourself a MetroCard. Gone are the quaint days of standing in line for the booth clerk to transfer your cash into metallic entrance coins or "tokens." Nowadays New York has completely transitioned over to a magnetic card reader entrance system. We call ours a "MetroCard." Other rapid transit systems around the world have different names for virtually the same technology.

In this city, all you need to do is go up to a kiosk situated near every subway entrance and use the touchscreen to purchase a MetroCard in any language and in various denominations. My favorite MetroCard is the monthly unlimited ridership one. Once purchased, you can ride as often as you must, whenever you want, within a 30-day span. If you use the subway as much as I do (which goes well beyond the twice-daily to and from work), the savings of buying the monthly versus the pay-per-ride option really adds up! If you're a short-term visitor to the Big Apple, I would recommend the weekly unlimited card instead.

Lastly, learn your general directional points. In the subway, south is generally "downtown," while north is "uptown." If you ever end up asking a local for directions, they will use these terms 10 times out of 10. So it's worth knowing this before hand. Sometimes you'll hear station announcements which use the names of Boroughs instead, such as: "The next Brooklyn-bound train is now arriving" or "The Bronx bound 4 train is now one station away." If you're anywhere on the island of Manhattan when you hear this -- and let's be honest, you probably are -- then all you need to know is that Brooklyn is technically "downtown" and that the Bronx is "uptown," or south and north respectively. Very rarely you'll hear subway lines referred to by their terminal stations, such as the "Lefferts Blvd. 'A' train" or the "Pelham Parkway '6' train," to convey directionality. This is how you navigate the Metro system in Paris, for example. In this case, if you really don't know these terminal stations, simply look on the map and trace your finger to the end of the line of the train you're thinking of riding. If your finger is traveling in the opposite direction on the map from the landmark you want to go see, you're on the wrong side of the platform. Or you can simply look up at the sign hanging over your head. They usually tell you the same information.

Anywho . . . now that you know your directions, you've got your map and you're past the pay entrance -- or "turnstile" -- you simply walk to the platform and hop on the first thing smoking, right? Well hold on there, buddy! It gets a little more complicated than that. Like most major cities with underground rail systems, many New York subway stations service more than one line at a time. And before you can choose your train, you have to figure out where it is you intend to go. The destination is more important than your current location, as with this info you will determine the optimal course of action to get to your stop. Unfortunately, there is no one or easily identifiable solution in place to assist you in this feat. Subway signs can be a mess of seemingly conflicting information, and even the map itself cannot show you whether your line/route has been switched or delayed that morning due to track work or signaling errors.

This is where, unfortunately, you MUST ask a New Yorker for help. I know, I know -- the HORROR! But, relax, we're not as bad as the movies or urban legends make us out to be. At least, most of us aren't. To be honest, I wish tourists would be a little more brave and asks questions. It breaks my heart sometimes to see an entire family from, say, the U.K. fretting over the subway map and trying to make sense of the garbled P.A. announcement telling them that their train has gone out of service. There have been moments when I'm standing right there and not one of them asks me for help, even though I'm probably the most knowledgeable New Yorker you can ever hope to run into when it comes to knowing the subway inside out.

But Batista, you ask, why don't you just offer up your assistance straight out? Heh, heh . . . do you honestly think I haven't tried that? Sorry, but I've been rebuked a few times by tourists that seem to regard me as someone who's about to mug them. So, no thanks. What I do now -- and sometimes it even works -- is I make what I hope is an open and approachable expression on my face so that they know I mean no harm. If they still don't want to risk asking this local for help, then I don't push the issue. More power to them.

If not me, then you should ask SOMEBODY for help. Don't try to go it alone. I've seen out-of-towners end up heading to Queens when all they really wanted to do was go to Battery Park. Needless to say they had a bad day in the ole city that time -- ouch!

However, fret not. If you don't exactly trust your chances in asking a friendly New Yorker for help, there's usually a cop or MTA employee somewhere about on the platform. Particularly near the turnstiles, that's your best bet. And if that option doesn't exist, you can always go the high-tech route. By now a lot of people have smart phones about them, such as Apple's iPhone or those new Android phones that seem to be all the rage. And with this technology comes lots of helpful little "apps" to guide you in your time of need on your underground adventure. I've used a few of these apps in other cities around the world, and to varying degrees of success. But below are 3 apps I highly recommend for New York City subway navigation in particular. Even though I almost never use these except to test them out, I still keep them on my iPhone "just in case." Hey, I was a Boy Scout -- I firmly believe in our motto, "Be Prepared."

All of these apps provide their own advantages over the plain old paper version of the NYC subway map:


iTrans NYC: This is an iPhone app that allows users to check on available schedules both online and off, find out the very latest service advisories, and plot the best and easiest routes between two stations. If out on the surface, the app will find your location and give you step-by-step directions to the nearest subway station. I've used it a handful of times since downloading it for $3.99 from the Apple app store last year, and I was personally impressed by the detailed and beautifully rendered map. The biggest selling point for this app is the currentness of its service advisories, as well as the surprising accuracy of its arrivals schedule. If you can only get one app for your subterranean travel in the Big Apple, make sure this is that app.

KICKMap: This, too is an iPhone app that has many of the same features of the above iTrans NYC, but with a few more added bells and whistles. For one, its version of the subway map is dynamic and will show you right on the display the exact station your particular train will stop at (and which ones it won't) depending on what time of day it is. As some of you may know, there can be a big difference on some of the lines depending on whether it is rush hour or late night. You don't want to get stranded at 3 in the morning on a train that looked like it was stopping at your station on a paper map, but in fact skips the station during late night hours. This app, which sells for $2.99, will also detail which stations allow you to cross over to the opposite moving track without having to leave the station and pay again to re-enter from the other side of the street. Still, even given all of the above PLUS the lower price, I personally prefer iTrans NYC more. Chalk it up to personal experience as a New Yorker. One of the down sides of this app is that it doesn't provide walking directions like iTrans does, and also sometimes the schedules are not as up to date, either. Still a great secondary app to have around.

Tube New York: This app presents a very odd dilemma. See, the "Tube" series of apps is created by Visual IT Ltd., and are available on a variety of mobile platforms -- not just the iPhone. The first app was the "Tube London" one, and I've heard that it is a brilliant piece of software at that. I myself swear by the "Tube Paris" version, and end up using it almost exclusively when we travel to that city. Like those apps, Tube New York is most handy for operating offline as a route calculator when you are underground and can't get a signal. It does this, however, by being rather bare bones. You can plot between two stations, and the app will give you detailed instructions on how to get there, including where and how to catch any connecting trains. For some reason, however, I almost never use the New York version of this app. It's pricey at $4.99, and because I know the subways so well I really don't have much use for a route calculator. Still, it's utilitarian interface and matter-of-fact presentation might be appealing to some travelers.


So, which one should you get? If you're like me, you'll probably want to own all three of these of apps. You know, like I said before: "just in case!"

In the end, as I hope this guide has shown, getting around the New York City subway system can be a breeze -- if you come prepared. Equipped with the right tools and knowledge, it's amazing how simple and convenient traveling underground here can be.

Now, how do you go about getting a seat once you're on board a train? Well, let's just say that takes a more advanced approach. One which I hope to cover in a future installment of this guide.

'Till then, travel safely!

(To continue on to Part 4 of the NYC Subway Survival Guide, CLICK HERE.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Research . . .

I realized tonight that I'm going to need to do more research for the practice novel, this time reading up on the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in particular the Romanian Patriarchate. Although, since the story takes place in 15th century Wallachia, the Orthodox authority in that country was still a Metropolis answering to the Constantinople Patriarchate, technically making it still part of Greek Orthodoxy.

Hmmm, seems I have my work cut out for me. But I think this is all such fascinating reading material. Can't wait to dig in!

Luckily, I don't need this information for the first chapters I will be writing starting next week. The characters who will benefit the most from this research won't have their chapters written until after the holidays, I think. Phew! Gives me plenty of time to do more reading -- yay!

And, on the off chance anyone reading this might know more on the subject -- or if you can point me in the direction of some good books -- please leave a comment! I can use the help.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Winner Is ME!!!

Last month I wrote in this blog entry about the KGB Fantastic Fiction raffle, and how various authors and professionals in the SF industry were donating items and services to help keep the reading series funded through the next two years and beyond. Go ahead and click on the link if you don't remember my particular dilemma this time around.

The short of it was, I knew at the time that several writers and editors would be donating their critiquing services for winners of the raffle, and I was bound and determined to be one such lucky recipient this year. Problem was, I first had to win. And then, secondly, I needed to make sure I had a somewhat decent work-in-progress to submit for critiquing. I wanted to submit a story which I knew needed work, but which I also felt had a decent chance of being published somewhere (anywhere) once it went through a rewrite or two. I had 5 good candidates out of the 10 short stories I've written this year, but was able to narrow it down to 2 by the end of last week.

Then I stuffed the ballots at the raffle and crossed my fingers. What? You didn't know that this is the secret to winning raffle drawings? For shame! Each raffle were only $1, but with no limit on how many single-dollar tickets you could buy for any one prize. Needless to say, I found items on the KGB raffle site that I absolutely, without a doubt, had to have . . . and then stocked up on as many tickets as I could for each to balance the odds in my favor! :)

Well . . . surprise, surprise! The results were just announced today, and out of the 4 separate prizes I purchased raffles for, I won 3 of them! Yay for me!

I'll list the three down below, with descriptions provided from the official KGB FF site itself:

1) Subscription to THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION



Description: Gordon Van Gelder, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is donating a one-year subscription to the magazine.


2) Signed ARC: FOR THE WIN by Cory Doctorow



Description: Cory Doctorow is donating a signed ARC of his most recent novel, FOR THE WIN.

(Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the bestselling Tor Teens/HarperCollins UK novel LITTLE BROTHER.)

 
3) Story critique by the Altered Fluid Writing Group



Description: The writers group Altered Fluid (http://www.alteredfluid.com/) will critique a story up to 7000 words, in person or via Skype.

(Altered Fluid is a speculative fiction writers’ group based in Manhattan. They have been meeting since 2001 to workshop their members’ short works of science fiction, horror, fantasy and slipstream. The critique will be delivered by all ten regular members. They use the Clarion Writers Workshop style of critiquing, which means each reader takes a turn making comments and suggestions, and the writer doesn't speak until the open discussion at the end. The group will spend 30-60 minutes analyzing the story.)

 
I mean, seriously, can you believe my luck? This is so AWESOME, I don't even have the words to describe --- [passes out]
 
Okay, now that I've recovered . . . I love all my prizes, but it's the last one for which I stuffed the ballot the most (now that doesn't sound dirty, does it?)
 
This crit group is no joke! I see various members of Altered Fluid all the time at KGB readings, but never had the courage to say "hi" before. Well, except for Nora Jemisin, author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, whom you may remember I met (and took Tarrell's picture with) back in August when Mary Robinette Kowal was a guest reader. I wish I could have taken the pic and at the same time jumped in there with Tarrell, but at least I got to meet two lovely newbie writers who's works I admire greatly.
 
Still, I'm totally geeked out by this win. Although, to be honest, I'm also a-scared shitless at the thought of being alone in a room with all these supremely talented people and having them take turns ripping my WiP to shreds -- YIKES!!! But I tell myself: what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger. Yes, I must keep telling myself that. Writers need to be made of stern stuff, and learn to take constructive criticism, yep.
 
Ultimately, I think I'll be too excited to be scared. It's going to be an amazing learning experience for me, and I'm sure I'll learn a ton about the craft -- especially about making this specific short story better --  when all is said and done.
 
I'll update you all once me and my story have been put through the ringer. Assuming I survive. *meep*
 
P.S. -- The title of this entry is an inside reference for gamers. Bonus points if you can guess which video game I riffed it from. *Hint: it's from the 1980s 8-bit console era. Any true gamers from my generation will know the answer.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

NYC Subway Survival Guide (Part 2)

One of the oldest and most extensive underground rapid mass transportation systems in the world, New York City's subways can be a daunting task to navigate even for the most seasoned of straphangers. This is where I come in. I'm a New Yorker born and bred, having lived here for all 34 years of my life. Mine has been a continuous love/hate relationship with the labyrinthine rail system ever since I started riding it at the age of 9, and  I'm here to present my tips and observations to you, visitor and citizen alike of this great American metropolis.

The Subway Survival Guide is meant to keep you alive and well to live another day in New York City. Ignore its warnings at your own peril.

But before we get started on the next installment of this ongoing series, please check out the previous entry at your own leisure:

Part 1: Trust No One!


And now, let us continue:


Part 2 - Make Yourself Less of a Target.
----------------------------------------------

If you've never been to the Big Apple before, or if you have but never ridden a genuine NYC subway, you've no doubt built up an irrational fear of the underground rail byways that crisscross these 5 boroughs. In the movies, the subway always get the meanest, baddest rap. Sure, at one point it used to be extremely hazardous to your health to venture down into the murky depths of twisted tunnels just to get from Midtown to Downtown. I'm talking the 70s and early 80s, here. But then, history will show that all of New York was in a bad place during those wild days -- not just the subway.

Still, I give this city credit: things have improved 300% since my earliest memories of riding cars drowning in graffiti and rolling hills of garbage and abandoned newspapers. Both the MTA police as well as the undercover squads which patrol the trains have done an excellent job reclaiming the one true lifeblood of this city's transportation needs. I'd venture to say a newcomer to this town can live here for two years and still not see one incident of a crime being committed. It's rare, but it can happen. Unless you spend all your days roaming the underground from Washington Heights to Rockaway, that is. Then you're just asking for trouble.



Truth is, yes, it's a lot safer than it's ever been to ride the rails here. But that doesn't mean shit doesn't still happen. It does, and how you carry yourself and remain aware of your surroundings plays a huge role in whether you make it out of a dicey situation unscathed.

Here are 8 tips to keep in mind when riding the lovely NYC subway system:

1. Avoid confrontation. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, right? After all, many of us don't actively seek out confrontation. Problem is, when you have 3 million people all on the same evening rush commute home with you, simply standing in one place minding your own business can be enough to set someone wailing on your ass. If you want to make it home without joining in a fistfight, actively keep yourself out of harm's way. Avoid standing by the doors as people rush in and out of the train. If you are carrying a knapsack or over-sized purse, bring it around across your midsection or place it between your legs. You might not be aware of it, but that bulky bag on your back is pushing into the poor man behind you. And if that person just happens to be off his meds on this particularly fine day, well . . .

2. Accidental eye contact is okay -- the 3 minute death stare of Hades, not so much. Seriously, some people are just looking to pick a fight. If someone is staring you down, it's no big deal to simply shift your gaze marginally to the side by a fraction of an inch. Pretend you're reading the platform signs through the glass behind this person. Or whip out a book. Wearing shades are always the best bet, because this way no one knows whether you're staring at them or simply taking a power nap. Now, if you think this is the pussy way out -- well then, be my guest and stare away at Paco Melendez packing that shiv with your name on it in the right pocket of his hoodie. If you're a tough guy, take your chances. You might win this battle. Most likely, though, you won't. At the end of the day, do you really want to risk it?


3. Never play with your shiny new gadget while sitting adjacent to the exit doors. This is probably the most frequent crime I've witnessed with my own two eyes on the subway. People sitting near the door with their iPhones, iPods, laptops, or portable gaming systems in their hands, completely oblivious to their surroundings. Criminals love to wait by the doors as the train pulls into the station, stand there while the doors open, and then, at the last second before they close, snatch the device out the victim's hands and run like greased lightning off the train. If the timing is right, by the time the victim has the sense of mind to even do anything about it, the doors have closed and the train is already pulling out of the station. Do yourself a favor and simply read a book, or get some shut eye on your long commute. Otherwise, try to keep one eye on your PSP and the other on the door the entire time. Not an easy feat to pull off, let me tell you.

4. Beware of Mr. Jumpy. This is when being aware of your surroundings -- and more importantly, the people around you -- really pays off. If you see a guy standing when there are plenty of seats available, this should raise your Spidey senses just a tingle. If he starts fidgeting and shifting from foot to foot, maybe pacing back and forth from door to door, then your internal warning signals should be blaring as loud as klaxons! Twice I've seen such twitchy fellows proceed to do something quite insane to the closest available person. The one time it was a slap to the face and a quick dash out the door. The other time, another jumpy individual pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the face of the fat guy sitting across from me. He then proceeded to rob him of his money and iPod, directly in full view of me and about 12 other passengers, before running out the train just as the doors were closing. He also punched the victim in the face for good measure before leaving. Talk about adding insult to injury (the poor guy was pretty shaken up afterward, too.)


5. When in doubt, go to the middle. I recommend this the most to either novice subway riders, or if you've been partying all night and now you're taking the subway home all alone at 3:30 in the a.m. (stupid ass!). Subways typically have two MTA employees operating a train at any given time. The Operator or Engineer sits in the front car and handles the mechanics of actually moving the train from Point A to Point B. He should be your second choice to come to with a problem, as he's really more busy with making sure you don't all crash in to the train ahead and so forth. The other employee -- the Conductor -- is situated in the very center car of the train. His job is to open and close the doors, make sure everyone gets on, and make any necessary announcements over the P.A. He's also in charge of contacting the proper authorities should anything seem amiss. This is the car you want to be in if you're feeling less than safe on any given ride. The Conductor might not be able to save you from roving bands of muggers, but he's the guy that will call for help. As such, the middle car is usually the most crowded car during late night hours. And in NYC, there really is safety in numbers.

6. Display some common courtesy. Some of these should be no-brainers, but I've honestly seen more fights started over a simple case of bad manners than any other single provocation you can imagine. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or yawn, especially when the car you're on is crowded. Don't steal someone else's seat, you wouldn't like it if someone did that to you. Kids like to kick out ALL THE TIME, so please keep a tight reign on your children's feet and off the lap of the woman sitting patiently next to them. Don't fall asleep if you can't keep control of your head or torso from swaying back and forth like a scarecrow caught in a tornado; you might find your ass waking up on the floor. If you mistakenly bump into someone, the polite thing to say is: "Oh, pardon me"; not: "Well, who told you to be in my way?"

7. You're not a circus performer, so please don't practice your high wire act. Seriously, step back away from the platform's edge, dumbass! Do you really need so badly to physically see the headlights of the oncoming train as it approaches the station? Is that really going to make it come any faster for you? No, it will not! So do us all a favor and keep well away from the Cliffs of Insanity, there, Dread Pirate. Some of us have places to be and don't want to end up being interviewed for the 11 o'clock evening news.




8.  Afraid you might stick out? Change your posture. This is my default setting, myself, whenever I'm on the train and a large bunch of unrulies are sitting around me: I simply act bored out of my mind. I slouch back a little, yawn, and stare out into space. Or I close my eyes and pretend to sleep. I do my best to look like somebody who just doesn't give a shit, even though inside I'm hyper alert to every single movement and sound generated around me. Native New Yorkers are masters of this attitude -- we can adopt it faster than the drop of a dime. Usually, it's because we really don't give a shit! We've seen it all before. But if you're an outsider, seriously, do you best to avoid staring at the low-brow antics of these hoodlums. They'd like nothing better than an audience, and anything you do to make yourself seem more vulnerable is just asking for trouble. Again, the 11 o'clock news . . . you really want to avoid being the lead-in story that night.


This might seem like a lot to have to remember, but honestly you should have noticed a theme here. Which is: Don't do anything to make someone else want to stab your ass!

In this city of 13 million people, the chances of you running into that 1% of the American population not fit to be without restrictive clothing are marginally higher. The crazies simply LOVE big cities, and you don't get much bigger or famous than New York. So ask yourself this: do you really want to egg these people on even more?

Yeah, I didn't think so. Stay safe, always expect the unexpected . . . and for fuck's sake people, keep your nose out of other people's beef!

Trust me, you'll live to ride the subway again another day if you do.

(To continue on to Part 3 of the NYC Subway Survival Guide, CLICK HERE.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

NYC Subway Survival Guide (Part 1)

New York City. Home to one of the oldest and most extensive underground rapid mass transportation systems in the world. Nearly 11 million riders travel in and out of its maze-like warrens of underground tunnels and platforms every single day, always on the go to someplace important. It can be a daunting -- hell, even dangerous undertaking for even the most stalwart of straphangers. And while you the rider may be tempted to simply mind your business and keep to yourself and your mp3 player until the experience is over, sometimes a more proactive awareness of your surroundings is required to make it out alive.

This is where I come in. I'm a New Yorker born and bred. I've lived here for 34 years. My first great subway experience was during the big New York City blackout of 1977. Just a few weeks shy of my first birthday, my pregnant mother and I were stranded on the No. 2 line for three hours in pitch black before help finally arrived. You can almost say I was born on the battlefield. I started riding the subways to school on my own at the age of 9. Mine has been a continuous love/hate relationship with the MTA system ever since. In that time, I've learned the map inside out. I've seen acts of overwhelming generosity and abhorrent horror -- sometimes on the same commute!

And I'm here to present my tips and observations to you, visitor and citizen alike of this great American town. The Subway Survival Guide is meant to keep you alive and well to live another day in New York City. Ignore its warnings at your own peril.

Now then: Let's get started, shall we?


Part 1 - Trust No One!
-------------------------

This may seem like a no-brainer to most. After all, we all know how hard and tough living in New York City can be. And yet . . . AND YET! . . . I can't tell you the number of times I've seen people open their hearts during the long commute when in reality they should be closing their wallets and purses.

Look, it's simple: When on the subway, always keep your money to yourself.

Now, I'm not talking the obvious, like not counting your wad in plain sight of about 50 other nosy bodies in the same car with you. No, most people already know better than this. What I'm referring to are the countless scams in operation on any given day throughout the entire MTA. Scams that are technically illegal, but which law enforcement doesn't actively seek out to prevent.

The most notorious and, in my mind, the most obvious is the panhandler -- those who solicit you for a personal donation into their cups. These are the miserable wretches who come aboard during all hours of the day and feed you a variety of bullshit depending on the individual trying to tug at your heartstrings. In the 80s it used to be the legless Vietnam vet. But now that most Vietnam vets are either dead or too old to panhandle anymore, the story has changed to just simply being homeless. Sometimes they'll embellish their stories by saying they've been abused at the local shelter and must now live in the subway. Or sometimes they'll say they have two children waiting for them back home, but that the city has cut off their welfare allowance.

Btw, it's always two children. Not one, not three, but TWO! And their public aid status is always currently under appeal, but in the meantime . . . can you please help tide them over until they can get back on their feet?

One time an obvious dope whore came aboard and claimed all of the above (except the Vietnam war vet story, of course. That would be too obvious), AND that she was currently two months pregnant to boot. Tears were streaming down her face, and she looked a horrible mess. Mostly women riders on the train gave her some money. I, on the other hand, sat there wondering just what exact percentage of this pitiful woman's "earnings" was going to go straight into her arm later that night.

Now you might be saying: Batista, come on! I know better than that. I would never give a homeless person money. I'd give them food or clothing or something non-monetary in value. And I'd reply: good for you, Jack. But that's not the reality that I see every day. Most of you give money. LOTS of money! Quite a few of these panhandlers make more in one day than I do.

And you know, some of these other scenarios might not even seem like scams to you at first.

Take for instance the teens who roam the train cars carrying boxes of candy for sale. The story they spin to peddle these overpriced goods changes every several years, yet they are always the same down to the very last kid. And, in fact, the evolution of the tale can be a nice study in group psychology.

See, years ago when these kids first started to show up in earnest during rush hour, their story went something along these lines: "Hello, we're selling candy to raise money for our high school basketball/football/baseball team's uniforms. All we have today is M&M Peanut and Starburst. 1 dollar, 1 dollar. Does anybody want to buy some candy?"

That was the pitch, and people fell for it. Which I never understood. I don't even have kids and I knew this story was full of shit. What parent would rightfully allow their school's sports faculty to send their Junior Varsity child out into the mean subways of New York in order to peddle Snickers bars for funds? I mean, seriously? At one point it even got to be an epidemic on the trains. Sometimes I would see these kids three or four times in one day!

No, like other sob stories on the subway, this was just a scheme to get people to cough over more money for something which costs half the price at the newsstand or corner store. Do yourself a favor and don't fall for this.

Nowadays, the story has curiously evolved. I guess they realized people weren't buying the "school uniform" crock. So now these kids come aboard and don't even try that bullshit anymore. Now they try the honesty approach which, predictably, is still not the truth. Their pitch these days goes something like this: "I'm out here selling candy trying to make money. Not for my school team, not for my church, but for myself so that I have money in my pocket and a reason to stay off the streets out of trouble. If you would like to buy some candy, I only have M&M Peanut and Starburst left for 1 dollar each. Does anybody want to buy some candy?"

Now, you see, isn't it obvious what's going on here? Somebody is buying these M&M boxes in bulk from wholesale, then sending these little ragamuffins out into the subway to hawk them at a marked-up value of $1 apiece. By my calculations, they can be making AT LEAST $25.50 in profit off of each bulk box (you can buy a 48 count box from Costco for just $22.49). If you have a gang of 20 kids working the system, and each kid sells through only just one box during the course of the day, that's a net profit of $510 per day per gang. BANK!!! I would imagine whoever is organizing this has drug connections. Except, selling M&M's is a lot less incriminating and something younger would-be gang initiates can do to cut their teeth before they move up to the really lucrative illegal stuff.

So, honestly, do you want to support this illicit empire? Really? Is your sweet tooth going to suffer that much? Can't you wait until you get out of the subway and find the nearest Pakistani newspaper vendor who will sell you M&Ms and whatever other candy floats your boat for cheaper? I think you can.

Yeah, I know what you're probably thinking: Damn, dude, you're one seriously cynical bastard! But point is, don't fall for these schemes to depart you of your hard-earned dollars while riding the subway. The cost of ridership is already criminal as it is, wouldn't you rather be more safe than sorry?

And to be honest, this is something tourists don't have a problem avoiding. For most part, out-of-towners are overly cautious, having probably been told horror stories by their tour guides or hotel concierges about what to expect in the subterranean no-man's land of this great big city.

No, sadly, the easiest dupes are New Yorkers themselves. Maybe it's out of pity, maybe they actually believe these maudlin tales of woe. But take it from me: you must have a heart made of stone when you ride these trains. If someone is selling you a story during your evening commute, that is all it is: a story. What they intend to do with that money afterward is entirely of an unsavory nature.

So, keep your money to yourself, traveler. Don't give in to the sob stories. This is New York -- everyone's a crook! Or at least, that's what you should be telling yourself when you ride our subways.

It's the number one and most fundamental rule of survival here: trust no one but YOURSELF!

(To continue on to Part 2 of the NYC Subway Survival Guide, CLICK HERE.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Amazing Scene From HBO's New Show "Boardwalk Empire"

I talked about this latest big-deal original series from HBO back in August. Check out this blog entry for a refresher.

Anyway, I think we're 4 episodes in now, and HOOO-BOY! there was a doozy of a scene this time. Each new show has a scene like this . . . one that sends shivers down your spine at how awesome it is. A scene that displays, in just a few short minutes, that the people behind the series are not pulling any punches in the delivery of grade A drama. Such is the scene I'm about to show you.

To set it up: Boardwalk Empire takes place in Atlantic City during the dawn of Prohibition in 1920. Chalky White is a local gangster who's running a pretty tight moonshining crew in partnership with the city's corrupt Treasurer. In the last episode, one of Chalky's men is found lynched just outside his business. He presses his partner to get to the bottom of who did it, or else his all-black crew will cause a lot of trouble. Eventually the head of the local KKK chapter is brought in, and Chalky White is given free reign to interrogate him in private. Here's what happens next:



This scene actually came close to bringing tears to my eyes, due to the heartbreaking personal story Chalky relates. You know, in most movies and tv shows, you don't often get to see the personal tragedies in the criminal's past that shaped him into the hard and cold man he is today. Scenes like this remind me that even so-called bad guys are not all black and white, but operate in that gray zone of morality that real people and real stories are shaped from.

As a would-be writer, it's a lesson I must remember always.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Movie Trailer Deja Vu.

Fast on the heels of the Back to the Future blog entry I wrote just two posts below comes news that Spike TV will be airing an almost shot-by-shot remake of the original BttF teaser trailer for their Scream Awards next Tuesday. What's so cool about this is that they were able to get Michael J. Fox to reprise the footage -- 25 years after he filmed the first one. WOW!

For your edification, here's the original teaser trailer from 1985:



My god, you can tell this is from the 80s, eh? LOL! Anyway, here's the Spike TV promo. It's remarkable just how close to the original they got it:



And just a reminder that the Blu-ray boxset of the BttF trilogy is coming out on Oct. 26 to commemorate the first film's 25th Anniversary.

I can't even believe it's been that long -- WTF?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Return Of Blogger Comments!

And there was much rejoicing in Heaven!

Some of you have been complaining -- both in public and in private -- about my recent switch to Disqus for the comments administration on this blog. At the time I thought it would be a vast improvement over the old Blogger default format.

But now we're back to the old system! Be glad, be very glad. And, also: see what I do for my readers?

To be honest, Disqus wasn't really providing that big of an improvement to justify my using it here. It allowed me more freedom in moderating the comments, sure. But now that Blogger has updated their own commenting UI, it turns out that this wasn't as a big a deal as others had made it out to be. And so I'm done with that.

Also, the Disqus comments form was taking way too long to load up on each of my posts. That lag was unforgivable, but I should have seen it coming being that Disqus is a third-party UI that's managed offsite.

Sucks, that.

Oh well . . . from now on all my fellow web loggers on Blogger will be able to use their existing Google IDs to keep on commenting like you've always been able to do in the past. And any newcomers or non-registered visitors will still be able to comment as well.

It's a win-win situation for everybody. Really, it is.

Hooray?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Back To [My] Future

I was reading this news article today in The Hollywood Reporter about the 25th Anniversary trilogy box set of Back to the Future, which is coming to Blu-ray later this month (oh yeah!). In it, they brought up a factoid that many of us fans already knew: that the original Marty McFly was played by none other than Eric Stoltz for a period of about five weeks before they pulled the actor and went with Michael J. Fox instead.

Click on the link above and catch a clip of Stoltz in a few of the now iconic scenes we all love and cherish. I really, really like Eric as an actor, don't get me wrong. Hell, he's frakking AWESOME in the "Battlestar Galactica" spinoff, "Caprica," now running on the SyFy Network. But Marty McFly he was NOT!

Phew, they really lucked out by snagging the plucky Canadian off the set of Family Ties long enough to make this now seminal sci-fi flick. And I'll be sure to snag my copy of the entire set come Oct. 26th. Can you believe I never owned these films on DVD? Good thing, too, because for once I won't have to double dip!

Anyway, it got me to thinking about time travel again, one of my favorite day-dream subjects as of late. I've been trying for years to work out a viable time travel premise for a short story or novella, yet so far all my attempts have been duds. But that doesn't mean I can't still fantasize about what it would mean for me, personally, to be able to travel back in history.

What usually ends up happening when I think of such matters, though, is that I'll come up with two different time travel scenarios:

On the one hand, I imagine a traditional vector wherein the time traveler uses a device to take him back to any point in Earth's timeline.

On the other hand, I imagine the traveler can only travel back within his own personal timeline, and only while occupying the body and mind of the younger version of himself whilst in the period of time he's chosen.

Hmmm, which do you think would be more exciting? The first option obviously offers more freedom, as you can travel as far back as, say, Ancient Egypt, and learn things about that time that even the oldest and most experienced Egyptologists today don't know. Woo-hoo! But the second option is also just as cool, no? Just think of all the mistakes you made in your past that you would now be able to fix. And before you go there . . . let's leave out the time paradox school of thought, or the Butterfly Effect. Two areas of temporal theory I don't particularly agree with, but which have no place in this fun little thought experiment anyway.

So, what would I do given either of these options?

Well, with the first, I would travel back to the 1950s. I don't know why, but I find it a fascinating time period in America. Sure, I could travel further back in time, but the more you go the more you risk entering an alien culture and society that you are not equipped to handle long enough to keep yourself alive. Not knowing the language alone might be enough of an excuse for some Roman centurion to run you through with his Gladius and ask questions later.

No thanks.

For my first time travel venture, I would play it safe and only go so far back in time that I wouldn't immediately stand out as some rube, yet still be far enough back from my own lifetime for it to be a cool and interesting experience. I would explore New York and see for myself the city expand in all its post-war exuberance. Then I'd take a cross-country trip and eventually make my way to Hollywood, and be there when all the great classic films of the Golden Age are starting to take shape. Maybe I'd stop by this sleepy little desert resort town known as Las Vegas and invest in the local real estate boom going on there, too.

For the second option, this one is the most difficult for me to envision. How far back into my own past would I want to go? What would I do all over again or, more importantly, what must I be sure to keep the same?

I think I would travel back to 9th grade and re-do those next 4 years all over again. Isn't that what they all say? I mean, who here didn't have a difficult go of it in high school? But to be in my 14 year old body with all the knowledge and foresight I possess now? Whoa, it would be a whole different story!

Of course, why would anyone want to repeat high school all over again, right? And let's be honest, if I had the knowledge I have now back then, I would probably just drop out of high school, get some bullshit job at McDs or something, and invest my paychecks in all the companies that I know are going to go BIG in the Internet explosion of the mid-90s -- like AOL, Netscape, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and eventually Google. Not to mention other big corporate entities these days like Amazon, Dell and Best Buy! And in the oughts, there's always Facebook! The sky's the limit on just how much I could benefit knowing what I know now. Plus, I'd get to relieve both the Michael Jordan-era NBA *and* the Yankees resurgence to dominate baseball in the latter half of the 90s. Double win!

The danger of this second option, of course, would be if I went back far enough to effect big events in my life, such as the death of my mom. It's a very heavy subject with me, but surprisingly I'm not so sure that I would do something as drastic as that. I mean, a part of me does in fact believe that some things happen for a reason. It's a hard truth, but it's one I've lived with ever since the age of 9. If I had the chance to change the outcome of that fateful night back in 1985, I'd have to go against everything that made me who I am today.

Wouldn't it be worth it, though? To have my mom back, I mean?

Hmmm . . . as you can see, the possibilities are both exciting and woefully complex at the same time. The more I think of it, the more I believe that the further back into your own past you travel, the more damage you can potentially cause to yourself and those around you. Maybe what you think would be a mistake worth fixing might in turn precipitate another much larger problem in the new future timeline you've just created. And once you made this change, or any change for that matter, you'd run the risk of never being able to return to your future time--the present time--again.

Maybe, on second thought, it's better to just stay put where I'm at for now. It's probably a good thing we can't time travel, eh?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Know What I'll Be Watching In Theaters On Xmas Day . . .

True Grit.

Yes, it's a Western. Yes, it's a remake of the 1969 movie starring John Wayne. And, yes, it's directed by the Coen brothers.

But, honestly, that last factoid should say it all. Can I name one Coen brothers' movie I've watched and NOT like? Hmmm . . .  nope, guess not! Off the top of my head, here are some of my favorites:

No Country for Old Men
Raising Arizona
The Man Who Wasn't There
O Brother, Where Art Thou
The Big Lebowski
Fargo
The Lady Killers
Burn After Reading
A Serious Man

In fact, I think The Lady Killers and that one small segment they wrote and directed for the collaborative film experiment Paris, je t'aime, was the only time I could say they faltered just a wee bit. I still liked both those efforts, though, don't get me wrong. Ever since my brother and I first watched Raising Arizona on HBO back in the late 80s, I've always found their writing and directing style quirky yet no less entertaining. And they're no one trick pony, this sibling movie-making team. Each of their movies are different from one another to such a degree that if you didn't know better, you'd swear they were made by different directors.

This time around, they're tackling the Western genre. As someone who only reluctantly watches a select few movies in this genre--but who has been vastly impressed by the recent slate of Westerns released in the last decade (e.g., Open Range; Seraphim Falls; 3:10 to Yuma)--I have to admit that True Grit is looking to own this year in movies for me.

The film stars Jeff Bridges as Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn in the role originally played by Wayne. He's hired by a young girl to track down and apprehend one Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin), a hired hand who killed her father and fled into the lawless tribal lands of the Indian Nations. Along the way, the unlikely duo are joined by a Texas Ranger named "La Boeuf" (Matt Damon) who has his own reasons for getting his hands on Chaney.

Already sounds like a truly gripping story in the making right there, no?

In fact, True Grit is less of a remake of the original movie than it is a re-adaptation of the Charles Portis novel which both films are based on. As such, I wish that die-hard fans of the 1969 version (and there are quite a few out there) would just calm down and realize that this current film is not out to replace their cherished forty year old memories. I, for one, hold no allegiance to the original since John Wayne is not exactly my symbol of the gritty old West archetype. For that you would have to look no further than my man Clint (Eastwood, to you), whom I feel embodies the quintessential Western hero.

Regardless, I dare anyone to view the following new trailer and tell me it doesn't speak to all levels of friggin AWESOME! And with the Coens behind the helm, I already know I'll be in for quite the treat.

Enjoy!

I Guess I Just Don't Have It In Me

To be a prankster, that is. The video I'm posting below shows a guy playing a prank on his sleeping girlfriend. Watch it for yourself and see if you find it funny:



Now, while I can sit there and laugh at this, at the same time I would never ever do such a thing to my Lisa. Or to anyone, for that matter. I'm sure I've mentioned it here once before, but I've never been that guy that can laugh at other people's misfortune. Be it someone falling down some stairs, or a joke made at their expense. Even if the harm only lasts a fews seconds, those few seconds, to me, are too long.

See, my issue with practical jokes like this one is that, for even the briefest of moments the recipient of the prank is terrified out of their mind, and even (like in this young lady's case) fearful for their life. And, yes, even though it might be funny afterwards, it was decidedly unfunny for that person for the several seconds it took before she realized it was just a prank.

I don't know, to me I could just never knowingly be the cause of even one second's worth of pain and terror to my wife. Or maybe I just don't have an appreciation for the art of pranking?

Maybe. Say what you will, but I've never been able to understand why guys--and let's be honest, this seems to be a sick proclivity held mostly by males--get such great pleasure in seeing their SO's suffer in such a juvenile manner. To me, it's not funny -- it's just being an asshole.

At least, to be the one doing it. Watching as a detached, 3rd-party stranger who don't know these people, on the other hand . . . I have to say the woman's reaction in the video did elicit a chuckle out of me. Yeah, yeah, I'll admit it!

Still, don't think you'll be seeing any videos of me trying the same stunt. I would feel like such shit afterward.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

With These Three Blog Entries . . .

I shall rule the world! *mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!*

Okay, not quite -- but I would like to take this opportunity to point out that my blog has been getting insane amounts of traffic over the past 6 months, and for some reason 65% of that traffic belongs to 3 of my archived threads in particular:

My Self-Guided Highlander Tours Of Paris:
Part 1: http://davidjbatista.blogspot.com/2009/03/my-self-guided-highlander-tour-of-paris.html
Part 2: http://davidjbatista.blogspot.com/2010/03/my-self-guided-highlander-tour-of-paris.html

The Top 10 Ways In Which Zombies Are Misunderstood:
http://davidjbatista.blogspot.com/2009/08/top-10-ways-in-which-zombies-are.html

I don't know why these attract the most Google searches, but apparently the people are demanding their Paris filming locations for that 90s tv show "Highlander: The Series" . . . along with a healthy dose of zombies! What the two have in common, if anything, I don't know. But this is what the masses seem to want.

And, honestly, who am I to deny them this? So to make things easier I'm linking to all 3 entries in one location!

Do with this convenience as you please -- for good or for bad.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trying Out A New iPhone App . . .

Yesterday I made the long drive up to my Aunt's and Uncle's house, which is way out in the middle of the woods in upstate New York. They had their last outdoor cookout of the year there, and I had a good time. I also thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test out this new iPhone application called "Pano," which allows you to take panoramic pics with your iPhone -- in effect "cheating" a much wider angle than you would normally be able to achieve on any phone's camera. You take around 4 or 5 pics, moving your viewer to the right with each photo taken, and line up your next shot with the previous one to get as close to a seamless stitch as possible. Once you've taken the required number of photos, the software goes to work and blends each one together so that you have one super wide-angle shot. I was impressed!

I ended up taking several panos around the property, which you can see below. Click on each one and to see a larger image:








As you can see, the leaves have already changed and have even begun to fall this far North. By contrast, down in my neck of the woods in NYC -- we've barely begun the changeover process even though it's already October. I provided a pano I took just this morning outside my bedroom window in the Bronx for comparison:




Pretty neat, huh? I'll take another one in a few weeks to show just how long it takes for it to really start looking like Fall around here. Usually, we don't start looking like upstate NY until the end of the month and into the start of November. Although we've had a problem with drought conditions this summer, so I expect the leaves will start turning sooner and more severely than in years past. We'll see.

The cookout ended with roasting S'mores around a bonfire -- although, to be accurate, they were roasted before the fire got as big as it is in the pic below:


All in all, I had a great time and got to meet a lot my Aunt's and Uncle's friends. I left their place around 8 for the 3 hour drive back to the city alone (Lisa was at work). It was a long, boring drive in mostly pitch black conditions along lonely and curvy roads. But I had an audio book to keep me company the whole way, so I was fine. At one point, a fox ran across the road lightning-quick in front of me. Luckily he was far enough away--and didn't look directly into my high beams--that I didn't even have to swerve or slow down. I had my fingers crossed that no deer would attempt to jump in front of my car, though -- and none did. Phew!

Hope you all had a great weekend!

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